Last Thursday, with the speech from the throne, the 41st Parliament of Ontario officially opened. The speech from throne is typically wide ranging, and sets out the key priorities for the government. And I’m happy to report that the environment and climate change were among the priorities mentioned in this year’s speech.
As widely expected, Premier Kathleen Wynne reiterated her commitment to transit – a critical environmental initiative and necessary get Ontario’s economy moving. Investments in public transit will reduce gridlock, create jobs, and get people out of their cars and into electric vehicles like subways, streetcars and LRTs. These are the kind of projects we should be building, rather than risky pipelines.
The premier also made some strong statements about climate change. It’s not every leader who will admit that “Climate change is already having an impact on our lives, creating severe weather events that affect us all.” And she’s right that “increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather hurts farmers, puts pressure on infrastructure, and at the worst of times, robs people of their homes and livelihoods.” Climate change is one of the most profound challenges of our times, and thankfully the premier seems to recognize that.
The strong statements about the environment and climate change shouldn’t come as a surprise. From the creation of the world’s largest Greenbelt, to the passage of the Endangered Species Act, to a bold move towards renewable energy, Ontario has done a lot to protect our environment and reduce this province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Premier Wynne has had a hand in all this. Just last year, she shared the stage with Al Gore to celebrate the closure of Ontario’s last coal-fired power plant and to announce legislation that would make it illegal for power plants to burn coal in this province. The closure of Ontario’s coal plants is the single largest climate change initiative in North America. While celebrating their permanent closure Premier Wynne said that climate change poses a grave threat. “We need to act now; not next year; not six months from now. We cannot afford to put this off,” she said.
The premier again signalled her intention to address climate change when, shortly after winning the election, she created the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and appointed Minister Glen Murray. The creation of a cabinet position with the explicit responsibility of tackling climate change is a clear indication the province means to make headway on this issue.
It’s good to see that the government seems to appreciate that addressing climate change would benefit Ontario’s economy too. We don’t produce much oil and gas but, thanks to the Green Energy Act, we do produce wind and solar power. As Premier Wynne said, “A growing renewables and energy innovation sector can become an important export industry for our province and our country.”
We can sell clean technology to other jurisdictions, and there’s an opportunity for us to sell clean power too. We’re connected to many U.S. states, just on the other side of the Great Lakes, who need more clean power to meet their own requirements and to get in compliance with coal regulations moving forward in the U.S. Ontario is perfectly positioned to help these U.S. states break their coal habit.
In the speech, the premier also referred to the need for a Canadian energy strategy, and stated that such a strategy must include co-ordinated efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recognize the important role of renewable energy and energy conservation. We hope this signals a commitment to a strong and progressive Canadian energy strategy that doesn’t cater to the narrow interests of the oil industry, but instead responds to the needs of all Canadians and our shared climate.
Ontario has other opportunities to grow a clean economy. For example, as home to the largest automotive manufacturing cluster in North America, we could be doing more to get a slice of the growing market for eclectic cars.
The Premier is right that “Ontarians are proud to be leaders in the global fight against climate change.” And from the looks of things, we have a leader who is proud of this too.
And it appears our premier also appreciates that addressing climate change will not cost our economy. Instead, there are many opportunities for Ontario to generate new jobs and new industries and a lasting prosperity as we build a clean economy.